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Taupō’s Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary is a cornerstone of New Zealand golf, not only is it situated conveniently in the heart of the North Island, it’s also the unofficial heart of golf in The Land of the Long White Cloud. So to see this charming and hallowed facility suffer so much damage was tough news to learn.
However, in true Kiwi style, a resilient and determined recovery programme is in full swing and Wairakei Golf Course is very much open for business. The evergreen fairways are calling, they’re still as firm as ever, and the wildlife is enchanting and flourishing.
Love Taupō sat down with Warren Collett, General Manager Operations Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary, to hear about the herculean effort it has taken to get things operational once again.
WC: “ It’s not only a golf course. People can come here and see and feed live deer, they can see our wild birds we have here - the endangered takahē, a host of pheasants, there’s a host of quail, there’s the guinea fowl and we’re soon to release a yellow pheasant which is beautiful.
And on the course side of things, it’s a very playable golf course. A lot of people go and play resort courses - which are often tougher type courses where they struggle, but here it’s playable for everybody.”
WC: “Back on the 13th of February the course took some substantial damage during the Cyclone [Gabrielle]. We were very fortunate that no greens, tees and fairways were damaged to any extent, except a little bit down the left of the 13th and 14th fairway. The whole process initially was to clean up inside the fence - we’ve still got some damage , trees on the ground around the periphery of the golf course which is going to be taken care of over the next few months, some broken cart paths to be replaced, but generally we’ve been very happy with the way the course has returned.
People have come back to want play. It’s just that some of the holes now look totally different with trees that have disappeared. We are looking at doing some substantial tree replacement planting - we’ve already transplanted 250 trees, but there’s still more to come.”
WC: “You couldn’t get access right through the course, we had to close for two and a half weeks - the whole operation, no trading whatsoever. We were fortunate enough to get a forestry crew in here straight away, they worked seven days a week which allowed us to get nine holes open at the end of February, which was the front nine, then these guys moved onto the back nine, and by the 6th of March we finally got 18 holes open.”
WC: “We had about 300 meters of our predator fence broken in several parts. There was quite a substantial area on the southern boundary that was decimated. There was a big chunk of fence adjacent to the Wairakei Resort forest damaged up there, along with more damage alongside the first and second fairways.
We were very fortunate the Maungatautari ecological team arrived the next day and the fences were all repaired within 24 hours. We are unaware that we have lost any wildlife - no deer, we still have the takahe here, nothing escaped as far as we can ascertain.”
WC: “We’re pretty fortunate really, we’re on pumice and it’s good draining soil. So in the middle of winter when a lot of the other courses - particularly Auckland and Welliongton - are saturated, where ours is still playable, very very dry, we’re just lucky that the drainage here is perfect and we don’t have many days a year where you can’t get around in golf carts, and on the fairways.”
WC: “Well the international people that come are pretty blown away with what they see. It’s quite different from when they go to the Cape [Kidnappers] or Kauri Cliffs, or Tara Iti or those types of courses.
It’s a unique experience when they come here. As for the locals, this course has been around a long long time, since 1970, and people are still coming to want to play it, and we are always seeing the same groups returning for regular visits.”
WC: “We’re very fortunate we have an owner who is very passionate about the place. It’s all about producing a quality surface that’s playable all the time. Customer service is paramount at these types of facilities, so we're taking what we do best forward.“
Golfers who tend to hibernate in winter may be missing a prime opportunity to play during the best-conditioned and prettiest time of year.